By Jack Tarrant
KOBE, Japan (Reuters) – Lionel Messi is the best player ever and Barcelona owe their success to their evolution to a more direct style from a possession-based passing game, the club’s former player David Villa has said.
Barcelona currently have an eight-point lead in La Liga over Atletico Madrid ahead of Saturday’s showdown between the sides and also face Manchester United in the Champions League quarter-final this month.
Messi has been central to Barcelona’s success, scoring 42 goals across all competitions and proving the side’s talisman time and again.
He will turn 32 in June but Villa, who played alongside the Argentine forward at Barcelona for three years, does not see him slowing down.
“It is difficult to be surprised with Leo,” Villa, who now plays for Vissel Kobe in Japan, told Reuters in an interview.
“He is the best. He has always shown everybody in the world that he is the best… Every game that you can watch him is a pleasure.”
For those who have seen Messi during his 15-year career at Barcelona, there was no doubting his place in the pantheon of footballing greats, Villa said.
“Obviously (there were) Pele, Maradona, players like (Johan) Cruyff. I didn’t have the opportunity to watch them like I watched Messi every day, every game… But, for me, Messi is the best,” said Villa.
“He is good in everything that he does.”
Barcelona have adapted their style of play since the ‘tiki-taka’ days under Pep Guardiola, playing in a faster, more-direct fashion currently.
Villa, who won the Champions League with Barca in 2011, lauded the changes made in the pursuit of success.
“I am very happy with the things that we did when we played in Barcelona, with the style that we had, the trophies that we took,” said Villa, who left Barcelona for Atletico in 2013.
“Soccer is changing every day and you need to accommodate yourself and your team to the things that happen in the moment. I think that it is a different Barcelona but at the same time a great team as well.”
Despite the time difference, Villa said he will be keenly following Saturday’s contest between two of his former sides at the Nou Camp.
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)